(directed by Vikram Gandhi, 2011)
(**** out of 5)
> Vikram Gandhi grew up in New Jersey to Pakistani parents, who worked hard to preserve the family’s Hindu traditions in the melting pot of America…
. One of the things he became familiar with was the practice of yoga. A strong spiritual thirst drew young Vikram to India, with the thought of making a film about the various gurus, shamans and fakirs who stake a claim to enlightenment. In total, he felt them shallow, insincere and phony, and came to believe that one didn’t need a guru because it was possible to, in essence, be their own guru. Returning to the states, he eventually hit upon a novel idea for a clever bit of performance art/filmmaking: He would grow a beard and long hair, don a loincloth, adopt his grandmother’s accent and invent a fictional “guru” named “Kumaré”!
. Taking his camera crew, he moved out to Tucson, Arizona- where his true identity would be unknown, to see if he could invent a spiritual path led by this charismatic mock “holy man”, that would attract real followers- in effect: create his own religious cult in America. The results are astounding. Willing believers flock in, and hand him the keys to their inner worlds, all seeking something greater from life, something more from themselves. As he grows into the role, he begins to own it, as Vikram dissolves into Kumaré. He is shocked to discover that he has something to offer these people. His philosophy, ritual and metaphor offer them something substantive despite the fakeness and deception of it all. All doubt is jettisoned, and he is wholeheartedly embraced by the local yoga community.
. Eager to buy into the narrative, his 14 disciples each invest him with the qualities they need to see reflected back. In search of their own story, they get involved with his. But Vikram’s conscience begins to tug on him as he sees that he cannot keep up the subterfuge forever, and that the “great unveiling” he has promised them all along is fast approaching. To provide an ending to the film there needed to be an end to the performance- he needed to come clean. But would these people he had come to care so deeply for, all feel terribly betrayed by the truth? Would they feel used? Abused? Cheated? Let down? In his defense, Virkam as Kumaré always preached the truth, hidden in a gospel that prepared them for the reality, telling them again and again (in character) that he was a fake and a phony and not at all what they all thought he was- and that the real guru was within each of them. But so taken with the pretense of the Kumaré persona, were they listening to what he said?
. We see for ourselves, when “the great reveal” finally arrives and we ourselves are forced to wonder if perhaps Virkam the imposter deceived his disciples into happiness, and if so- was this really such a bad thing?
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